Thursday, January 24, 2013

Don't Multi Task

The idea that doing several things at once is somehow better than doing one thing at once continues to spread.  I guess people think if they're doing three things, they must be working harder.  And we all want to be hard workers--we especially want others to acknowledge us as hard workers.  So we do three things at once.  We multi task.

When you do three things at once, are you doing any of them well?

Seriously, stop and think about it.  You're checking your email and your co-worker is asking you a question.  Which one are you focused on? Maybe both, but then you're only giving each half your attention.

Computer science teaches that computers don't truly do three things at the same time.  They do Task A, then jump to Task B, then Task C.  Computers switch back and forth very rapidly, giving the illusion that they're multi tasking.

Most people don't realize this.  Instead they see their computer running three apps at the same time and figure they can do, too.  But we're not computers.

Pick one task and focus on it.  Do it to the best of your ability.  Focus is key, especially if it's a creative task or something you're still learning to do.  Don't stop to answer the phone or check Twitter.  Finish the task, or if it's a big job, take a break and walk around.

Consider quality over quantity.  Doing something well versus doing ten things poorly.  Now go try it.

(The term multi tasking probably wasn't invented when Joe Hyams wrote ZEN IN THE MARTIAL ARTS, but this little book is full of lessons on being in the moment.  Lifehacker Tim Ferriss has also addressed the problem of multi tasking in his books and blog.)


  1. I read something a while back that said that Princeton or Harvard or Yale or one of those uppity schools did a study on students who "multitask" and the results were ridiculous! The retention level just plummets! Nice thoughts, Mark :)

    1. Although we want to believe we can do several things well at the same time, most of us can't. We actually get more done when we work on one thing at a time, even if it's for a short period.

      Thanks for commenting!